Info

predisposed to be 'affected' by 'the sentiments' of others. At the pulpit as at the bar, effective speakers therefore should address themselves to the 'heart'.34

This new strategy helps to explain why one of the most important Catholic apologetic works of the eighteenth century, Le Comte de Valmont, by the abbe Gerard, was written in the form of a sentimental and epistolary novel. Like other such eighteenth-century novels, it uses the full retinue of sentimental devices and is, for example, replete with references to weeping, trembling, blushing, and fainting. The influence of Rousseau is more than obvious. But in the case of this Christian novel, all such techniques are geared towards bringing people back to the fold.

Gerard expresses aversion to 'theological discussions'.35 He does not want his book to be 'pedantic' and 'dry'; rather, he wants it to be 'charming'. He wants to speak of God in a way that renders religion 'lovable'. He will counter the dangerous and 'discouraging doctrines' of the deists and atheists by showing how 'ennobling' and 'uplifting' the Christian religion truly is. His novel will supplement reasoned argumentation and logical demonstrations with 'touching scenes' and 'benevolent spectacles' meant to 'touch' and 'move' the reader. 36

The usual arguments encountered in earlier Enlightened Christian writings are all still present. Catholicism is a reasonable and useful religion. It makes perfect sense to anyone who cares to consider its tenets carefully and honestly. Moreover, without it, all morals would disappear. Families would fall apart and society would dissolve. Authority and justice would be overturned; 'chaos' and 'anarchy' would reign.37 A new emphasis is added, however, when Gerard suggests that the value of religion would be immediately obvious to all people who sincerely consulted their own hearts. If they did so, they would 'find there the need for the Christian religion'. This need was an 'inner cry' that any honest person who consulted his own sentiments could not ignore.38

Somewhat paradoxically, the sentimentalism espoused by Enlightened Christians like Gerard opened the door to a kind of 're-enchantment' of both religion and society. This is where the boundaries between Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment become particularly blurred. This is also where the influence of Rousseau is most keenly felt. Perhaps taking a cue from Julie's wedding ceremony in the Nouvelle Heloise, Christian apologists of the second half of the eighteenth century no longer felt it so necessary to argue that religious ceremonies and theological dogmas were intelligible and reasonable; it was enough that they were beautiful and moving. Rousseau's Julie could almost 'feel' herself being converted through her eyes and her ears.39 'Man', abbe Bergier explained, 'is always guided by his senses'. Therefore, he had

0 0

Post a comment